It is unfortunate that this collection of Universal Dracula films were only released in this mega-DVD collection as a means of promoting the film Van Helsing, but the important thing is that they were released - including the inimitably weird House of Dracula on DVD for the first time. This collection inspired its own kind of bloodlust in my Dracula-loving heart, and I imagine all fans of Dracula and Universal's classic monsters movies of the 30s and 40s have either already purchased this set or are saving up the money to do so. Just look at the bounty of riches included here: the original 1931 classic Dracula starring Bela Lugosi, which you can view with both its original score as well as the modern score composed by Philip Glass and performed by the Kronos Quartet; the incredible and technically superior Spanish language version of Dracula; Dracula's Daughter (1936); Son of Dracula (1943) starring Lon Chaney, Jr.; House of Dracula (1945); an original documentary, The Road to Dracula, discussing the making of the English and Spanish versions of the original film; a commentary by film historian David J. Skal on the original film; theatrical trailers for the films; and, last and certainly least, a look at how the original Dracula franchise influenced director Stephen Sommers in the making of his new film Van Helsing.
I waited a long time to watch the Spanish version of the Dracula, and it lived up to its reputation. A much more complete and compelling version of the film, aided by an additional half hour running time, this movie equals or excels the English language version of the film in all ways - except, of course, for the performance of Bela Lugosi, who simply is Count Dracula. As for the Lugosi version, I'm torn between the two scores. As a traditionalist, I tend to favor the original score, but certain scenes, particularly those involving Dracula's predatory approach to his victims are made much more powerful with the addition of the Glass score. Either way, though, Bela Lugosi is the main attraction, and his iconic performance defines Count Dracula to this very day.
The three Dracula sequels vary in quality, none of them living up to the reputation of the original. Dracula's Daughter takes the story in an interesting direction, giving us a vampire who seeks help in freeing herself of the Dracula curse, and Gloria Holden gives a formidable and nuanced performance as the daughter of the Count. Son of Dracula, on the other hand, pretty much lays an egg in my opinion. The only interesting thing about this movie is the debate over the true identity of the Count - is he Dracula? the son of Dracula? a relative of Dracula? In the end, it really doesn't matter, but it seems obvious that the blood of Bela Lugosi's Count Dracula certainly doesn't run in the veins of "Count Alucard" because this new bloodsucker on the block isn't the smartest vampire in the castle. Many Dracula fans will of course be aware of the fact that Lon Chaney, Sr., was the original choice to play Dracula in the 1931 film; his death opened the way for the relatively unknown Bela Lugosi to take on the role he had already played hundreds of time on stage. In Son of Dracula, Lon Chaney, Jr., gets the chance to don the cape; Chaney earned his spot of fame in the Universal monster pantheon, but he didn't earn it as the Count - his performance is nothing short of boring, aided not one iota by a surprisingly weak script from the hand of Curt Siodmak.
The addition of House of Dracula to The Dracula Legacy Collection is a very big deal, for this is the first time this film has found its way to DVD. House of Dracula is a really weird film, as this sequel of sorts to House of Frankenstein features not only Count Dracula, but Frankenstein's monster and the Wolf Man as well. John Carradine plays a quite pedestrian Count Dracula, while Lon Chaney, Jr., plays the Wolf Man; Frankenstein's monster is played by Glenn Strange, but the monster plays only the most minor of roles in the story. The action takes place in Vasaria (wherever that is), where Dr. Franz Edelman (Onslow Stevens) is pursuing his own rather wacky scientific experiments, placing great hope on some new kind of spore he is growing in his private little hothouse. Both Count Dracula and Larry Talbot (the Wolf Man) come seeking his help; Talbot's wish to banish the Wolf Man manifestation from his life is understandable, but Dracula's reasons for seeking help are never made clear. In the course of trying to help these two special patients, Edelman runs into the body of Frankenstein's monster in a cave underneath his sanitarium (in a rather ho-hum fashion, no less). As you might expect, this association with three monsters turns out to be a bad thing, leaving Edelman in a pretty bad fix himself. It's somewhat difficult to take this movie seriously, but it does provide some wacky good fun in a campy sort of way.
There is a slight risk involved with purchasing The Dracula Legacy Collection, but the rewards are worth the risk. Just be careful opening the case - even if both of the DVDs (one of which is double-sided) remain in position, you are likely to find a little knob underneath each one just dying for the chance to scratch a disc.